Saturday, August 10, 2013

Behind the scenes at the Minnesota State Fair

The two questions that Brienna Schuette, marketing and communications manager at the Minnesota State Fair, always gets asked when people learn where she works are, "Is that your real job?" and "What do you do in the off season?"

For Schuette, one of 70 year-round full-time employees of the State Fair, her job is very real and has come with numerous public relations challenges. Take, for instance, the year 2007. That year a tornado hit the fairgrounds, tearing the roof off of the Grandstand and downing numerous trees. Also that year was the "runaway bull incident," when a bull got loose at 9 a.m., headbutted a fire hydrant and dropped dead. "I kind of thought it was a joke at first," said Schuette. Or the 35W bridge collapse.

In 2008, Schuette told a group of attendees at a recent Minnesota Public Relations Society of America event, the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul overlapped with the State Fair. That turned out to be a boon to the State Fair media coverage, though, because the RNC started on the last day of the State Fair -- and many national and international media were in the Twin Cities already. Many media did "slice of life" stories about the Twin Cities, and the State Fair was a part of that coverage.

mn state fair foodThe State Fair had the first outbreak of the H1N1 virus in 2009, and the Communications team reacted by proactively communicating the importance of hand washing. Last year's public relations challenge for Schuette was the Stratosphere, a "200-foot, one-of-a-kind PR nightmare," according to Schuette. The ride, totally run by computers, was almost too safe -- it regularly stopped midair if there was too much wind. As one could expect, the Stratosphere will not be back for this year's State Fair.

Schuette presented alongside Lara Hughes, State Fair communications supervisor, and Christine Noonan, State Fair marketing and communications specialist.

Hughes noted that "It takes an entire year to prepare for these 12 days." She mentioned some new media resources for 2013, including: a media relations hotline staffed from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., a protected Twitter account just for the media, and a public information officer for State Fair police.

As the State Fair is "The Great Minnesota Get-Together," social media has proven an excellent opportunity to "get together" with Minnesotans online. While the State Fair has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, Noonan said that "Facebook is the workhorse."

The Communications team uses social media to: get a pulse quickly and inexpensively, check reactions, reflect the State Fair's personality and voice, and stay engaged with people year-round. The team has used Pinterest to take on misperceptions, hence the addition of the "Healthy at the Fair" board.

As you go to the State Fair this year feeling inspired by the bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp on-a-stick, remember that an event this big requires a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make an enjoyable experience for Minnesotans.
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